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Higher Education - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:32 pm on 19th July 2018.

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Photo of The Bishop of Chichester The Bishop of Chichester Bishop 12:32 pm, 19th July 2018

My Lords, I begin by recording my thanks for the welcome and encouragement that I have received both today and on so many occasions since being introduced into your Lordships’ House.

I came to the See of Chichester in 2012 after ministry in inner-city parishes in Plymouth and Leicester, as the priest administrator of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk, a canon at St Paul’s Cathedral, and all-too-short a time in the diocese of York as Bishop of Whitby, which was always about more than Dracula and goths. In each context, the Church’s contribution to learning and the arts has been a significant element of my ministerial experience, perhaps exemplified most strikingly by the centuries-old work of St Paul’s Cathedral School, which today offers choristers a free education in music of an international standard. Many choristers have become professional musicians in adult life, sustaining and enriching Britain’s cultural life.

I often feel overwhelmed by the scale of this inheritance and by the best accomplishments of my predecessors. Bishop George Bell made Chichester famous for its contribution to learning and the arts, and he was building on solid foundations. In a tenure of just four years, his predecessor, the remarkable Bishop William Otter, established a teacher training college that has joined with another local institution to become the University of Chichester. Otter was inspired by the tradition of learning nurtured by Christian Europe, and from which, even post Brexit, the Church of England will continue to draw. His academic credentials lay in the founding of King’s College London in 1829 as an explicit expression of Christian commitment to higher education.

It is no accident that today the arts form a central part of the university’s life in Chichester, drawing on rich resources in the cathedral’s outstanding musical tradition, the art in Pallant House Gallery and the Chichester Festival Theatre, presently enjoying summer performances of “Me and My Girl”. The theatre runs a vibrant youth theatre for more than 800 people of school age. Its workshops for young people and adults with special needs represent a remarkable achievement of social inclusion.

This inheritance in Chichester demonstrates that in a creative, balanced and economically sound society, the arts, science, engineering and technology need each other. As we consider the value to the UK economy of higher education as an export, the Church of England, a foundational stakeholder in higher education, is also concerned with the quality and scope of the offer we make to overseas students. The Church of England holds fast to the question of what education is for, believing it right to ask how learning gives moral value to economic activity. It is right to pay constant attention to the flourishing of human life and society. Further, particularly with foreign students in mind, the work of our chaplaincies not only addresses their pastoral, emotional and financial needs, but also ensures the dignity of their access to religious worship, which is particularly important to their identity. The Church of England is of course also concerned with the right to nurture the wisdom that will govern well our stewardship of the earth.

The benefits of access to learning and the arts can and must be open to all, especially in areas of deprivation in this country, where they provide unique opportunities to combat some of the symptoms of social dislocation and its consequences, and to build greater levels of racial understanding. I was delighted to learn that it was back in the 1950s that the Glyndebourne Festival took a production of “Fidelio” into HMP Lewes as part of a rehabilitation programme for prisoners, seeking to build the social integration for which we still long.

However, the challenges to sustaining this access and integration through higher education are substantial. Last year saw a 39% drop in the number of A-level music students and a 31% drop at GCSE. The impact of this is catastrophic in higher education as an export and its maintenance of our place as a world-class centre for music and the arts. Moreover, fears that there is growing social segregation in access to the arts are strengthened by the realisation that only one in 10 pupils from a disadvantaged background in Hastings or Eastbourne in my diocese will go to university. In this context, the University of Chichester seeks to make a distinctively positive contribution to the arts and to economic regeneration locally where it is most needed, and as an international export offering an experience that is always more than money can buy. One example of the university’s commitment is the new engineering and digital technology park in its Bognor Regis campus, which aims to serve the Hampshire and West Sussex coastal region—an area seriously disadvantaged by low levels of skills, business growth and earnings. Only one in five people in Bognor Regis and Littlehampton has higher-level qualifications.

Finally, I believe we should demonstrate a duty of care for students, locally from home and international students, that stretches beyond the academy. At present, 40% of Chichester’s graduates leave the region within a week of completing their courses because affordable accommodation is unavailable. This is a crippling outcome for the future economic and cultural life of provincial towns and cities such as Chichester. Similarly, we have a duty to sustain the relationships we are building with overseas students who are our exports to ensure that the bonds of learning and culture forge a greater sense of international trade and security that will build a peaceful and better future.

I have no sense of being equal to the noble achievements of my worthy predecessors but, encouraged by your Lordships’ welcome, I look forward to playing an active role in the work of your Lordships’ House in the years to come.